Aging Parents Visiting for the Holidays: Pain or Pleasure?

Santa Claus

Demanding mother, cigar-smoking father, less-than-enthusiastic spouse=Nightmare?

“Holidays are a time for family.” How often we hear this. When immediate family includes children young enough to believe in Santa and delight in the Chanukah celebrations there’s a certain quality that’s infectious. Ideally three generations enjoy a warm and fuzzy togetherness.  But……….?

Time to call upon our senior advisor psychiatrist, Dr. Bud.

Dr. Bud points out there’s an anticipation–of special demands, adaptation– when aging parents come to visit. He muses: Who’s adjusting to whom? For whom is the task of adapting greater?

He states flat-out that the joys associated with being together include a requirement of adjusting/adapting on both ends–by both generations. It may require some special preparations or treatment depending on your particular parent, because “what’s good for one may not be good for another.”

Example: Dr. Bud reminds us “one older mother may expect to be treated like a queen, while another wants to get right in and help.” Adjusting to either can require certain adaptation–again depending on the person.

The “houseguest thing,” according to Dr. Bud, is something that makes all uncomfortable. Why? Because a feeling of wanting to please others is part of it. And having to sleep over for the elderly–or having elderly house-guests who obviously do sleep over and are around 24/7–can be a source of annoyance, irritation or tension for their adult children and family.

The bottom line: Identify the person for whom adapting is most difficult and cater to a reasonable extent to that person’s idiosyncrasies. At the same time keep remembering  it’s a temporary visit–it’s not forever.

I offer my often-used-when-I-was-counseling “what’s the goal” advice as helpful in these situations. For those not familiar with it, it’s staying focused on your goal–that’s what’s important–by not allowing yourself to get sidetracked by all the stuff that can derail and prevent it.

If the goal is warm and fuzzy togetherness, then temporary adaptations for the duration of the visit may be necessary. The warm feelings we take away from these get-togethers generate memories that last for many years, often involving three generations–sometimes four. And similar to the sentiments expressed on that credit card commercial—-“fond memories of family times together—priceless.” With every good wish to you and your family.

Replica of the Temple menorah, made by The Tem...

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